September 14, 2017:
Islamic terrorists are not a major problem in Mali and the region, but these murderous fanatics are becoming entrenched by combining their Islamic zealotry with lucrative criminal activities. These groups are not restricted to one country in large part because their main source of income is smuggling (drugs, people, weapons, whatever pays.) The latest solution is a permanent regional security forces. On June 21
the UN approved the “G5 Sahel Joint Force.” This authorized five (the G5) Sahel nations (Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad) to form a peacekeeping force. The G5 are now seeking regular funding from the UN or the West to maintain an international force of troops to deal with Islamic terrorism through the Sahel.
The idea for this G5 force has been around since 2015 but it was only by the end of 2016 that the countries involved agreed on the details. This included who would provide what in terms of the 5,000 soldiers and police needed and where they would be based. The G5 force would be stationed in three operational areas where troops familiar with local conditions would work. Thus Sahel East would consist of troops from Chad and Niger. Sahel Central would be staffed by troops from Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso while Sahel West would mainly use troops from Mali and Mauritania. France expects to see parts of the G5 force operational by the end of the year. That would enable France to begin planning to shrink and eventually disband the force of 4,000 French troops it has deployed in the Sahel since 2013 and reduce the 13,000 strong UN peacekeeper force in Mali.
The peacekeepers in Mali are mainly African and mainly stationed in the north and, increasingly central Mali where there is more Islamic terror group activity, not all of it violent. The Islamic terrorists in Mali spend most of their time taking care of business, which is usually smuggling (drugs, weapons, people). This takes Mali based Islamic terrorists into neighboring countries, where the armed smugglers fight locals who get in the way. Burkina Faso and Niger have been the most frequent victims of this kind of violence.
It was also agreed that the G5 countries could not pay for such a force. This is a common problem in Africa, where only a few large, oil-rich nations (like Nigeria) can fund a multi-national operations. The UN or the AU (African Union) usually raise and manage the money. This is always a difficult process because of the pervasive corruption in most of Africa and the need to closely and constantly monitor the money to ensure that is being applied as intended.
The EU said earlier in 2017 it would help G5 get prepared to work in cooperation with the similar (but larger and better equipped) French force that has been operating in the Sahel (the semi-desert area south of the desert that stretches across northern Africa) since 2014. The EU (European Union) approved $56 million to establish support operations for the G5 force. That support will be based on what has already been established for the French counter-terrorism and UN peacekeeping forces in the area.
The idea of a permanent Sahel counter-terror forces had its origins in a 2014 French analysis of the problem. Back then the French concluded that the Sahel was still troubled by thousands of Islamic terrorists and that this situation could not be taken care of quickly. In order to maintain pressure on the Islamic terrorists France established a special force of 3,000 troops to fight Islamic terrorists throughout the Sahel (actually just Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad and Burkina Faso). Since then the French force has grown to some 4,000 troops equipped with hundreds of armored vehicles, 20 transport and attack helicopters, six jet fighters and three large UAVs. There are also two twin engine C-160 air transports available for use within the Sahel. Supplies and reinforcements are regularly flown in using long-range transports (like the C-17) belonging to NATO allies (especially the U.S. and Britain). From the beginning the French force included a thousand French troops in Mali and the rest dispersed to other Sahel bases and ready to quickly move anywhere in the region that Islamic terrorist activity had been detected. The G5 nations already cooperated by sharing intelligence and providing quick access to their territory by the French force. In addition the Americans provided satellite and UAV surveillance and other intel services (especially analysis and access to nearly all American data on Islamic terrorist activities in the region).
All this was meant to keep the Islamic terrorists in the Sahel weak and disorganized. So far that has worked, but these groups have been around since 2007, are still in business (as gangsters smuggling drugs and illegal migrants north) and getting support from Islamic terrorists in Europe and the Persian Gulf. Islamic terrorists continue to carry out attacks in Mali (mainly the north) and in the G5 states to let the world know that Islamic terrorists were still present in the area.
September 5, 2017: In the north (near Kidal) a roadside bomb hit a peacekeeper convoy, killed two peacekeepers and wounded two others.
The UN approved establishing a committee to designate individuals and groups responsible for interfering with the 2015 peace deal for northern Mali. This would enable the UN to impose sanctions. The difficulty here is that few of those involved (Islamic terror groups, local clan militia leaders or Mali government officials) are vulnerable to sanctions. But some of those involved are and most of those who are not are considered outlaws and being hunted by local security forces and international counter-terror groups. France sponsored this approach because, well, every little bit helps. Moreover those most vulnerable to these sanctions are local politicians and businessmen whose corrupt practices have long crippled the economy and politics in Mali.
August 19, 2017: In the capital the president announced he was canceling his effort to hold a referendum on changing the constitution. This was widely seen as another blatant example of corruption as it was expected that the president would endeavor to rig the vote and then change the constitution to make him president-for-life and reward his corrupt allies. Popular opposition could not be shut down using the security forces because there are too many peacekeepers in Mali just now and the country is also dependent on foreign aid.
August 14, 2017: In the north (Timbuktu) Islamic terrorist gunmen attacked the UN peacekeeper headquarters, killing five Malian security guards, a policeman and a civilian while also wounding six peacekeepers. The attackers suffered at least six dead and many wounded once the quick reaction force showed up.
In central Mali (near Mopti) Islamic terrorist gunmen attacked two military camps, killing a soldier and a peacekeeper and wounding another peacekeeper. At least two of the Islamic terrorists were killed.
In neighboring Burkina Faso Islamic terrorist gunmen opened fire on a popular Turkish restaurant in the capital, killing 19 people including nine foreigners. The attackers appeared to be Malian, probably Islamic terrorists from northern Mali. Violence like this is nothing new and as a result of it in January 2016 Mali signed an agreement with Burkina Faso to share intelligence on Islamic terrorists as well as coordinate security operations along their mutual border. In response to the increased Islamic terrorist violence in Burkina Faso has sent more troops to its Mali border. The success of the 2013 French-led offensive into northern Mali drove thousands of Islamic terrorists into neighboring countries and that’s when the Islamic terror problem in Burkina Faso went from troublesome to terrible. Burkina Faso also still hosts over 20,000 refugees, nearly all of them from Mali. Burkina Faso is, like Mali, landlocked and has 17 million people (about 20 percent more than Mali). Burkina Faso also lacks the troublesome Tuareg/Arab minority in the north. Because Burkina Faso is south of Mali it also lacks the semi-desert north in Mali. That is where the Tuareg/Arab minority live. Burkina Faso also has more religious diversity with a quarter of the population being Christian and 60 percent Moslem. Moreover the Moslem population consists of several different “schools” of Islam, some of them quite hostile to Sunni Islamic terrorism as practiced by al Qaeda and ISIL.